What is the kingdom of God?

Recent discussions about the church have raised the question of the relation of the kingdom of God that Jesus preached to the “church” that those who support the institutional church, preach (for example, Bill Kinnon says this in a recent book review: “…since DeYoung/Kluck resist the Kingdom of God arguments of their emergent targets, it’s best to ignore the fact that (according to my friend, Jonathan Brink) the word church only appears twice in the Gospels, whilst the word kingdom appears 116 times. We wouldn’t want Jesus’ words to screw up our carefully crafted arguments, now would we.”).

A while back I left a comment on Craig Carter’s blog summarizing my basic thoughts on the nature of the kingdom of God, and I thought a positive thesis on the kingdom might be interesting enough for discussion, so I’m going to repost it here with some editing and expansion:

Firstly, the kingdom of God is most basically “the range of God’s effective will” (Dallas Willard’s definition), or more biblically, wherever “God’s will is done”.

So:

1. Jesus/God are the kingdom in themselves, since they control themselves.
2. In a sense, given the doctrine of providence, everything in history is in “the kingdom of God”. This is reflected in the Psalms and the OT Prophets. In this case, something being under God’s will does not entail his moral approbation of it (God uses evil for good without approving it).
3. The apostles/prophets, as Christ’s royal ambassadors (and by implication, their writings which are the scriptures), infallibly obey his will insofar as they are carrying out their office, so that their official acts (including the scriptures) are complete expressions of the kingdom of God. They must be completely obeyed as Christ is obeyed.
4. The apostles are the foundation of the church, which is therefore also an extension of Christ’s will. As an institution set up by Christ, it is the kingdom in an objective sense (so, when the sacraments and word are properly preached, etc.). But insofar as it can defy its own nature/constitution, it can fail to be the kingdom in its subjective behaviour (when discipline fails). One could perhaps state this differently: preaching, baptism, the Lord’s supper, worship, prayer, church discipline, and the charismata are the kingdom on earth, and insofar as they are present, or absent, or deformed, the kingdom is present/absent/deformed to that degree. Church discipline should also be understood as inclusive of discipleship (which is church “self-discipline”). Another important point that needs clarification here is what is part of the “essence” of the church, such that without it the church would not be present at all, and what is part of the “well being” of the church. Given the kinds of churches that Paul addresses as churches, it would seem that perfect behaviour or doctrine among the congregation in general is not a requirement. This is the point that led the magisterial Protestants to locate the essence of the church in the correct doctrine (on essential matters!) and sacramental practice of the clergy. We may want to dispute this, but we have to come up with an explanation for the same data they were responding to, and I’m not sure there’s a better one. Any explanation will also have to take into account the things that the prophets/apostles/Jesus say requires exclusion from the kingdom, including both doctrines and practices.
5. As the last point implies, the clergy, which share the fallibility of the church, were instituted to have slightly more authority (and therefore responsibility) than the lay, but can ultimately be corrected by laypersons on the basis of what the apostles taught.
6. Non-Christian society, insofar as it is influenced by the church, can take on kingdom-like features, so in a sense the kingdom can be thought of as any situation where people are obedient to God/Christ. On the other hand, insofar as the world is, by definition, that which is under the sway of Satan, it is by definition the kingdom/city of man, not the kingdom of God.
7. The state can become/express the kingdom insofar as it obeys Christ’s/God’s commands for its special task, rendering judgment for the society which consists of both Christians and non-Christians.
8. With regards to “the powers and principalities,” insofar as Christ has subdued a particular power, then just that far the kingdom has also been extended in the spiritual realm.
9. The kingdom of God is also heaven (currently), as mentioned in the Lord’s prayer. Angels as heavenly ministers would also be agents of the kingdom.
10. This entire age of the church is the kingdom of Christ because Christ is currently in control of it on a providential level.
11. The consummation/eternity future is the kingdom of God in the fullest sense, where everything is obedient to God both providentially and morally.

*****

This already complicated picture leaves out an important biblical teaching: the presence of God’s kingdom in the Old Testament. The simplest way to summarize what the OT teaches about the kingdom would be to say that each of the covenants were Suzerain treaty covenants, covenants that extended the kingdoms of Suzerains/Caesars/Tsars over lesser vassal-kingdoms. These covenants were the Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and Restoration (with Gentile emperors as divinely-appointed rulers) covenants, along with the liminal period of the exile, which was itself an expression of the sanctions of the Mosaic and Davidic covenants. The New Testament/covenant theme of the “kingdom of God” is only picking up on this theme and the explicit OT prophecies that in the future, beyond even the Restoration period, there would be a greater expression in history (prior to the eschaton) of God’s will on earth, in the presence of a renewed Israel, a saved/judged Gentile world, a Messiah along with a modified cult/law, and an outpoured Holy Spirit.